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Publisher's Summary

To truly understand the United States of America, you must explore its literary tradition. Now, in this grand collection of 84 fascinating lectures, you'll get the chance to finally become familiar with America's true literary masterpieces (some you may already be familiar with, others you have yet to discover).

Professor Weinstein has crafted these lectures to explain why some works become classics while others do not, why some "immortal" works fade from our attention completely, and even why some contemporary works now being ignored or snubbed by critics may be considered immortal one day. One memorable work at a time, you'll see how each of these masterpieces shares the uncompromising uniqueness that invariably marks the entire American literary canon.

From Sleepy Hollow to The Great Gatsby and beyond, you'll journey through more than two centuries of the best writers America has yet produced, bringing out the beauty of their language, the excitement of their stories, and the value in what they say about life, power, love, adventure, and what it means, in every sense, to be American. You'll explore the roles of self-reliance and the "self-made man" in the evolution of American literature; the evolution of the American ghost story, from Poe and Hawthorne to James and Morrison; the epic strain in American literature, from Melville and Whitman to Faulkner and Ellison; the perspectives on nature revealed in poets Whitman, Dickinson, Frost, and Eliot; the tenets of Modernism in the work of Eliot, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Faulkner; the contributions of O'Neill, Miller, and Williams to American theater; and much more.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©1998 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)1998 The Great Courses

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
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Incomparable AudiOverview of American Literature

If you love reading or wish you'd taken that American Lit course in college or paid attention when you did, this is a great opportunity to explore and learn in over 43 hours of a conversational look by Ivy League (Brown) professor Arnold Weinstein at American literature going back to Ben Franklin's Autobiography and up to Toni Morrison's "Beloved." The course covers not only narratives (novels novellas and short stories), but also poetry by Whitman, Frost, Eliot and Dickinson (over 11 hours), plays by Eugene O'Neill, Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams (about 4 1/2 hours) and essays/memoirs by Emerson and Thoreau (about 4 1/2 hours). In the area of narratives, Professor Weinstein quite thoroughly examines in over 23 hours of courses, in addition to Ben Franklin and Morrison, the works of Washington Irving, Poe, Hawthorne, Melville, Twain, Henry James, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner, Steinbeck, Ellison and a few others.

If you haven't read a lot of these materials, don't be dissuaded from taking the plunge into this fabulous exploration of America through literature. I hadn't read many of the works, particularly the shorter ones, yet Professor Weinstein inspired me to read a lot of them. His teaching method doesn't require you to have read them to enjoy and learn from the course. Significantly too, the Professor doesn't stick solely to the works typically associated with a particular author. For example, he spent some time studying lesser known works by Melville ("Benito Cereno"), Hemingway ("Garden of Eden") and Twain ("Pudd'nhead Wilson"). And, perhaps the best thing about this audio course is that, if you aren't interested in an author/poet/playwright/essayist, you can skip that lecture *with impunity*.

I cannot recommend this course highly enough to anyone who loves lit, but never had a chance or took the time to study it. For me, this course was worth several credits and more.

41 of 43 people found this review helpful

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Great lectures, no track listing

What made the experience of listening to Classics of American Literature the most enjoyable?

I learned a lot and I'm a teacher so this helps.

What other book might you compare Classics of American Literature to and why?

Other lectures in the series.

What about Professor Arnold Weinstein’s performance did you like?

Very clear, like being in the front row of the class.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No, but I teach specific books and this is great for educating myself.

Any additional comments?

There's no way to know which tracks correspond to which books/stories! Very frustrating.

19 of 21 people found this review helpful

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A thorough and perceptive overview

I find myself enjoying all the Great Courses audio programs on topics that interest me. This one, on Classics of American Literature, is an extensive and thorough overview of some of the greatest works ever written. The speaker offers a perceptive, informative analysis of each work, sometimes offering as many as three sessions on a single work, examining it from a variety of angles. It is tremendously engaging and an excellent value.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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without reference, art loses itself

This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

Those who are interested in art simply for art's sake with minimal thoughtfulness put forth.

What was most disappointing about The Great Courses’s story?

Prof. Weinstein specifically points out that he isn't interested in the history around these stories. Without a reference point, a great deal of the meaning is lost. During the lecture on Rip Van Winkle in New York, and the changes that take place while he's sleeping, speaking about the radical changes to life in NY with the Erie Canal at the same time as that story would speak VOLUMES about the story itself. There's a circular argument in Emerson wherein Shakespeare is still alive within us, and then he goes on to argue that a live dog is worth more than a dead lion. There are intellectual failures throughout the course.

Removing context from a story and then pretending that one can truly evaluate the story is a lie.

What didn’t you like about Professor Arnold Weinstein’s performance?

The analyses done on these stories is shallow and short-sighted. This is the level of work I got in my high school classes, without the value of any deeper discussion. It's not worthy of the several other Great Courses which I've experienced.

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Deep disappointment. This is a university level course steeped in closed-mindedness. At the university level, I want to know how several people experienced these novels, and I want the analysis to discuss the world in which the stories are written. The world of the author matters.

Any additional comments?

This is the twelfth course I've listened to through the Great Courses. Most are excellent. If you share the viewpoints of the author, you'll probably enjoy this one. If you listen to the first 2-3 lectures and, like me, want to argue with the air - stop listening, it won't get any better.

19 of 28 people found this review helpful

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Surprisingly disappointed

Any additional comments?

I was really looking forward to listening to Classics of American Literature yet I find myself rather disappointed. The content is interesting but I feel that the lecturer spent too many lectures on individual authors and texts. For example, I love Poe but I did not really feel having three lectures over him and his works was needed. The same goes for Hemingway and Steinbeck who earned five and six lectures respectively. I enjoy these authors but feel there were many authors and works left out of the course as a result of spending so much time with the same individuals. Overall, the content was interesting but I would have liked more variety.

10 of 14 people found this review helpful

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A bit depressing

I reject the notion that all "great" literature must talk about depressing, sad stories. That all families merely wound us, that life is only about scars. I would fix this problem with these courses by removing some of the multiple lectures about various texts and suggest adding at least a couple, both by women. Where is Louisa May Alcott? Just because her books were written for women and girls doesn't make them not great literature. And if we must have Faulkner, we need the leavening and uplift of To Kill a Mockingbird, which is a more likely candidate for Great Southern Novel. Finally, I was hoping for some of Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. Perhaps not Eliot's most serious work, but still well written and fun. I realize these lectures are nearly 20 years old, but it's time to update them. The instructor is well spoken and reads well and is very insightful. I've graded this down for causing me to wonder why I ever read for enjoyment!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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not about the books it's more about the authors

What would have made Classics of American Literature better?

actually talking about the books.

What character would you cut from Classics of American Literature?

Professor Arnold Weinstein

Any additional comments?

I picked this course up hoping to get some insight on the stories, the reaction they had on people of the time and the reasons that these particular stories were considered classics. What I got instead was a professor droning on and on about the authors. It's less about literature and more of a bad history class. I say bad history because while I would love to hear about the authors, the way the professor here presents the material is boring and made me want to drive rusty spoons in my ears to make him stop.

Lucky for me I found the pause button before I found the spoons.

4 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • paul
  • Port Huron, MI, United States
  • 08-20-16

Prof Weinstein pushes his perspective on the books

Would you try another book from The Great Courses and/or Professor Arnold Weinstein?

.

Any additional comments?

Professor Weinstein is learned and entertaining, but he tends to be a bit tone-deaf to the transcendent or spiritual themes and authors. He doesn't seem able to follow an author to the spiritual heights. He always wants to deflate the symbols of transcendence with a kind of materialist reductionism. He's not an angry atheist type who wants to insult everything spiritual, but religious themes of Uncle Tom's Cabin for instance seem closed to him as if he is numb to ecstatic moral moments that lay the Truth bare before a reader. When discussing the moment of death in an Emily Dickenson poem, he insists that the poet is noting how people "bring out their myths" to cope with the loss. Reading the poem without that reduction gives no such impression. For me, the professor flattened the very high spiritual peaks of American literature. I hesitate to recommend this program.

5 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Blah

The lecturer seems to frequently lose his train of thought. I thought the material to be very opinion based, where I was looking for factual information . Also the professor is obsessed with sex or thinks every writer is.

4 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • DMcP
  • Decatur, IL
  • 05-25-17

a college course in literature.

Take your time to digest each lecture. Read the novels to fully understand the discussions.

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